Violent Femmes, for all their lengthy career, are primarily known for their self titled debut, a consistently selling, yet never charting, collection of hymns to teenage male angst. With its unique sonic landscape, universal themes for awkward teenage boys the world over, and high tune count, it is a hell of an album, and continues to be rightly celebrated as one of the foundation stones of American alt-rock.
The trouble for Violent Femmes was, despite their debut being so mind-bogglingly brilliant, they were never really able to record a follow up that captured the imagination in the same way. Sure, both Hallowed Ground and The Blind Leading the Naked were well received, but neither tapped into anywhere near the same size of audience as their first album, and after that it has been a law of diminishing returns for them.
So why buy Permanent Record? Because, while songs from, or contemporary to, their debut make up almost half of the track listing, either in their original form or later recorded liver versions (there is a live version of “Good Feeling” included as a hidden track right at the end), the rest of this compilation makes for a decent mopping-up exercise for the rest of their career, and proves that while the Violent Femmes albums following their debut were wildly inconsistent, there was at least one number which stood out from the rest. There is even the odd classic omitted as well, with the likes of “Dating Days” from fourth album 3 failing to make the cut. That said there is also the odd unexpected gem, such as the heavy handed, yet oddly charming, cover of T. Rex’s “Children of the Revolution”, and the irresistible title track to their Freak Magnet album. As compilations of uneven careers go, Permanent Record makes a good job of making Violent Femmes sound far more consistent than they actually were.
For some acts, you really only need a compilation to know all you need to know. For some, you absolutely need to buy every album to fully appreciate their greatness. However, there are those whose careers can truly be appreciated via one key album and a compilation, and Violent Femmes fit snugly into that third category, by dint of the fact that, while they could have occasional flash-backs to the spirit and energy they captured on their debut, these isolated incidents were few and far between.